The Thomas W. Smith Foundation is the private foundation of Florida hedge fund manager and right-wing philanthropist Thomas Smith. Established in 2015, the foundation has given millions of dollars to organizations attacking anti-racism curricula in schools and spent millions more funding conservative academic centers on college campuses. The foundation is run by conservative activists who hold leadership positions at numerous right-wing think tanks and philanthropic organizations.
Thomas Smith is a managing member of Prescott General Partners LLC, which manages the Prescott Associates LP and Prescott International Partners LP hedge funds. Prescott General Partners’ portfolio is worth over $1.45 billion according to its quarterly holdings report for the period ending on June 30, 2022.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed sanctions against Prescott General Partners in 2018 after finding that the firm “willfully violated Rule 204(b)-1 under the Advisers Act” by failing to file certain financial reports that are investment firms are required to provide if they manage over $150 million in assets. The SEC charged the firm a $75,000 fine for failing to produce these documents between 2012 to 2016.
The foundation is primarily funded by Smith’s personal wealth and capital gains income. Smith has given over $65.9 million to the foundation since 2016, contributing over $12 million in 2020 alone.
Smith also serves as board chair of American Transparency, a government spending watchdog organization founded during the Obama administration. Smith’s foundation gave American Transparency $330,000 in 2020. The group tracks public spending by Republicans and Democrats, but focuses much of their attention on attacking Democrats and issues important to progressives, such as racial justice. American Transparency is led by Adam Andrzejewski, a former Republican candidate for governor of Illinois.
Smith previously served on the board of the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles and History, one of the academic centers in the “Koch Brothers Academy” that espouses “theories and principles aligned with the Kochs’ convictions about economics and public policy.” The Thomas W. Smith Foundation donated $100,000 to the Jack Miller Center in 2020.
Thomas Smith keeps a low profile, and his online footprint is minimal. However, amid the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, he wrote a piece for the Manhattan Institute telling state and local officials to ignore recommended social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders. He called on them to “remove restrictions as fast as prudently possible.”
According to publicly available FEC data, Smith regularly donates to Republican campaigns and organizations.
James Piereson is a trustee and director at the Thomas W. Smith Foundation. He was the foundation’s highest-paid employee in 2020, receiving $350,000 for his 25 hours of work per week. Piereson is a notable figure in the conservative philanthropic scene and holds leadership positions at multiple right-leaning institutions. In addition to his role at the Thomas W. Smith Foundation, Piereson serves as:
In addition to his current leadership roles, Piereson is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that runs the right-wing outlet City Journal. He is also a fellow at the Jack Miller Center, a conservative academic center based outside of Philadelphia that sponsors university civic centers and summer programs using funds from the Koch network.
Piereson served for 20 years as executive director of the John M. Olin Foundation, “one of the largest financiers of the intellectual right” before it closed.
Piereson is the author of the 2014 book The Inequality Hoax, which he wrote as a counter-argument to Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In his book, Piereson defends lower tax rates for the rich and criticizes Piketty’s proposal for redistributing wealth.
Diane Smith is the wife of Thomas Smith and the vice president of their foundation. According to LittleSis, Diane has donated to multiple conservation organizations and politicians over the years, such as the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Former Trump advisor Stephen Moore is a consultant at the Thomas W. Smith Foundation. The foundation paid Moore $100,000 for consulting services in 2020.
Stephen Moore and James Piereson are both grant advisors at Searle Freedom Trust, another mainstay conservative funding organization.
Former President Donald Trump nominated Moore for a position on the Federal Reserve Board in 2019, but Moore ultimately withdrew his name from consideration after his history of disparaging comments about women surfaced, and he lost Republicans’ support.
The Thomas W. Smith Foundation is a major financial backer of the conservative movement’s falsified depiction of a liberal takeover of education. The foundation donates millions of dollars to conservative groups attacking so-called “critical race theory” in schools. Its board trustee and director, James Piereson, frequently attacks universities’ academic programs about social issues. Meanwhile, the foundation spends millions of dollars financing academic centers that espouse libertarian principles on college campuses, and Piereson has worked at many organizations that do similar work.
Piereson is an outspoken opponent of university programs that explore social issues like women’s studies, racial and ethnic studies, and queer studies. In a 2016 article for the Washington Examiner, Piereson criticized universities for having these academic departments and dismissed them as legitimate fields of study. He claimed programs on these topics “[make] up in ideological vigor what they lack in academic rigor.”
However, Piereson’s objections to “ideological” programs in schools do not seem to apply to promoting a free-market ideology.
The Thomas W. Smith Foundation directly funds several conservative programs at universities, including the Manhattan Institute’s “MI on Campus” project, which “sends MI senior fellows to campuses across the country at no cost to the host.” The program’s website lists James Piereson as an available speaker for the program. In 2020, the foundation gave over $1.3 million to the Manhattan Institute, earmarked as a grant for “education” on the foundation’s tax filing.
Another academic program that the Thomas W. Smith Foundation has supported is the Political Theory Project at Brown, an “ideological project” of the Koch network. The Thomas W. Smith Foundation gave the Political Theory Project $1 million in 2007. The group also accepted over $3.8 million from Koch-affiliated organizations between 2005 and 2019. Nancy MacLean, a professor at Duke University who researches the Kochs’ and other right-leaning donors’ influence in academia, called the professors at Brown’s Political Theory Project “foot soldiers in an ideological project.” She also said that when it comes to university centers funded by Koch and libertarian money, “if you dig into what the actual ideology that is being taught, you are looking at the radical right of this country.”
As another example of the foundation and Piereson’s hypocrisy, Thomas Smith’s “greatest influence” is a neoliberal economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek who helped organize the network of millionaires who financed academic positions and departments to spread a free-market, limited government ideology. In a 2013 interview, Smith said, “my foundation is primarily focused on promoting Hayek’s philosophy.”
The Thomas W. Smith Foundation has ties to several conservative think tanks, advocacy organizations, and funding groups through its leadership. Its closest ally, however, appears to be the Manhattan Institute.
Thomas Smith sits on the board of trustees of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that received over $1.5 million from the Thomas W. Smith Foundation in 2020 alone. James Piereson is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and he also received $140,000 from the institute in 2019 for independent contracting services.
Smith’s foundation sponsors a fellowship program at the Manhattan Institute. As of October 2022, right-wing columnist Heather Mac Donald was the Thomas W. Smith Foundation fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
The Thomas W. Smith Foundation also started the Manhattan Institute’s Hayek Book Award, named after neoliberal economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek.
The Thomas W. Smith Foundation has provided significant financial support to the right-wing organizations crusading against “critical race theory.” Popular Information reported that between 2017 and 2019, the Thomas W. Smith Foundation granted at least $12.75 million to 21 organizations spurring “anti-CRT panic.” These groups include, among many others, the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Federalist Society, and the American Enterprise Institute.
Thomas W. Smith Foundation director and trustee James Piereson told The New York Times in 2008 that the foundation “started paying for scholarly centers on campuses,” foreshadowing the conservative movement’s larger project of funding nonprofit academic centers on university campuses.
In 2020, the Thomas W. Smith Foundation gave over $3 million to university centers and other organizations promoting libertarian and conservative policies on college campuses. These grants include:
TOTAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO RIGHT-WING CAUSES IN 2020: $11,013,928
|American Enterprise Institute||$950,000.00|
|Real Clear Foundation||$750,000.00|
|State Policy Network||$600,000.00|
|Institute for Humane Studies||$460,000.00|
|FDRLST Media Foundation||$400,000.00|
|New Civil Liberties Alliance||$333,333.00|
|Judicial Education Project (the 85 Fund)||$300,000.00|
|Institute for Justice||$250,000.00|
|Pacific Research Institute||$190,000.00|
|Foundation for Cultural Review||$175,000.00|
|American Legislative Exchange Council||$150,000.00|
|Franklin News Foundation||$150,000.00|
|Government Accountability Institute||$150,000.00|
|Intercollegiate Studies Institute||$150,000.00|
|Center for American Greatness||$100,000.00|
|Competitive Enterprise Institute||$100,000.00|
|Daily Caller News Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Encounter for Culture and Education, Inc.||$100,000.00|
|Foundation for Individual Rights in Education||$100,000.00|
|Jack Miller Center||$100,000.00|
|National Taxpayers Union Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Prager University Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Property and Environment Research Center||$100,000.00|
|Texas Public Policy Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Young America’s Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Beacon Center of Tennessee||$75,000.00|
|American Institute for Economic Research||$50,000.00|
|American Spectator Foundation||$50,000.00|
|Center for Independent Thought||$50,000.00|
|Committee to Unleash Prosperity||$50,000.00|
|Independent Women’s Forum||$50,000.00|
|Student Free Press Association||$50,000.00|
|Turning Point USA||$50,000.00|
|Yankee Institute for Public Policy||$50,000.00|
|Center for State-Led National Debt Solutions||$25,000.00|
|Fund for American Studies||$25,000.00|
|National Review Institute||$25,000.00|
|American Ideas Institute||$15,000.00|
|Free to Choose Network||$5,000.00|